Local LGBTQ organizations to hold vigils for victims of Orlando nightclub shooting
Read More: Diversity Richmond, Hate Crime, LGBTQ, Metropolitan Community Church, NOVA Pride, Orlando shooting, Pride, Pulse, VA Anti-Violence Project, VA Pride, VCU, Virginia Muslim Coalition for Public Affairs
June is supposed to be a month for all to celebrate the LGBTQ movement and the strides the community has made over the years, but now it will be remembered as a dark time for many.
Early Sunday morning, American-born Omar Mateen took the lives of 49 people and wounded 53 others at Pulse, a LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Major news outlets are calling it the deadliest mass shooting in the country’s history.
To remember the victims, and unite the LGBTQ community, Diversity Richmond and several other local advocates will host events in honor of those who lost their lives.
Diversity Richmond will hold a vigil for Orlando victims tomorrow, Tuesday, June 14h from 7 to 8 pm. Individuals are encouraged to bring candles. On Wednesday, the Metropolitan Community Church of Richmond, a Christian church which serves the LGBTQ community, will hold a prayer vigil at their location at 2501 Park Ave.
VCU held a vigil for the victims on Sunday in the center of the college’s campus. You can read our coverage on that here.
“The word I’ve been using is unimaginable,” said Diversity Richmond Executive Director Bill Harrison speaking on his reaction to the news. “I think that like a lot of people I’ve just been processing so much stuff in the past 24 hours, like a lot of people I didn’t sleep very much last night…obviously our community was targeted.”
As soon as the word got out about the shooting, Harrison said people started emailing in to Diversity Richmond asking to put together some sort of event, which is why they planned the vigil.
“We heard from the Richmond City Police within a couple hours of the news being broadcast of their concern and support…” Harrison said.
Diversity Richmond usually has security at large gatherings according to Harrison, and he assured the community that the Richmond Police Department would be present at the vigil.
“The police will be there and one of the police officers from the city of Richmond will participate in the program,” he said.
Captain Angela Greene, the Richmond Police Department’s LGBTQ Liaison, expressed her sadness and condolences to the victims and their families.
“It’s a horrific incident that obviously has taken us back a little bit that in 2016, something like that could still happen where a group is being targeted whether it’s their race, sexual orientation, or gender identity,” Greene said. “So it was sad, very sad to hear, and obviously shocking and our hearts go out to the entire LGBTQ community as well as the families down there in Orlando.”
With June being Pride month, many events and festivals are still going on which could put many in the community on edge after this incident, but Greene stressed the department is taking the proper precautions to ensure everyone’s safety.
“Ever since the Orlando shooting happened, we have been in contact with our national and local partners to analyze if there are any potential threats here in the Richmond area and we have gotten back that it seems to be an isolated incident in Orlando,” she said. “If at any time there appears to be any threat or some kind of ties we will take the necessary actions…”
The LGBTQ Liaison even went on to urge the community to carry out their normal activities and participate in Pride month.
“We don’t want this incident that happened in Orlando, Florida to change anybody’s plan, to make anybody feel any uneasiness about going out and celebrating during this time,” Greene said. “I think if anything else we should come out in strength in numbers and show that solidarity and that we’re not fearful, we’re not scared and we’re not going to let this event hold us back.”
Harrison believes that this vigil Tuesday is a chance to bridge a gap and bring together not just LGBTQ individuals, but the community as a whole.
“This is an opportunity for not the just the LGBTQ community, but the entire city of Richmond to come together to support and mourn, but also come together to build community and gather strength and to pick ourselves up by the bootstraps and get back out there,” he said. “This is not going to defeat us on any level, we are still going to continue to have our pride festivals, we’re still going to march for our rights.”
Speaking at the event will be Dr. Imad Damaj, President and Founder of Virginia Muslim Coalition for Public Affairs, James Milner, President of Virginia Pride, Rev. Lacette Cross of New Beginnings Church, and Zakia McKensey of the Virginia Anti-Violence Project. Harrison said he hopes to get a speaker that represents the LGBTQ Latino community before tomorrow’s vigil as well.
According to CNN, Mateen was a 29-year-old security guard who resided in Fort Pierce, FL. He was born in New York whose parents were form Afghanistan. During a 911 call during the attack, Mateen pledged allegiance to ISIS and held anti-gay views.
Mateen, photo via Myspace
Mateen brought an assault rifle and handgun into the club, packed with about 300 people, and carried out the attack around 2 am. Mateen was shot and killed by Orlando police after breaking through the nightclub building with an armored vehicle and grenades.
The news outlet reports that the FBI had made contact with the gunman twice, once in 2013 over remarks he made to co-workers, and again the following year for possibly having ties to an American suicide bomber. In 2013, he was deemed “not a threat” and in the 2014 case he was found to have no connection to the bomber.
As of 3:30 pm Monday, 47 of the 49 victims killed have been identified.
President Obama called this shooting “an act of terror and hate” yesterday. See his entire speech below and read the full CNN news report here.
This wasn’t the only attack targeting the LGBTQ community recently. A man with weapons was arrested on his way to a gay pride parade in Los Angeles over the weekend. According to the Los Angeles Times, officials are still investigating the intentions of 20-year-old James Wesley Howell of Indiana.
And while this may be deemed the deadliest mass shooting in the country’s history, it is not the first major attack on the LGBTQ community. June 24, 1973, an arson attack took the lives of 32 people at the Upstairs Lounge, a gay bar in New Orleans. This was the final day of Pride weekend and the Metropolitan Community Church, the first gay church established in the 60s which held services there, held a free dinner for over 100 patrons that night.
But despite the horrific tragedy, the Orlando community is coming together to support the victims, many standing in line to donate blood to those still in the hospital. Donors were turned away and asked to come back because as of Sunday, blood banks were at capacity according to the Orlando Sentinel.
Beyond Orlando, there’s been an outpouring of support for the Pulse nightclub victims in many other cities. Large crowds gathered in DC, at the Stonewall Inn, the birth place of the gay rights movement in New York City, Miami Beach, Los Angeles and Seattle.
Brian Reach, President and Executive Director of NOVA Pride and VA Pride board member was in DC for the Capital Pride Festival when he received the news.
“Shock for sure,” Reach said commenting on the shooting. “I had woken up in DC with my husband at one of the member’s apartments and we have a table up at Capitol Pride, we were getting ready for the pride and trying to get pumped and then…we turned on the news…”
“For the first couple of hours that we were there at the festival every time someone said, ‘Happy Pride’ to me I started to cry.”
Reach said many people up there were hugging and consoling each other, while still trying to commemorate Pride.
“Everyone acknowledged the combination of feelings that we’re all grieving and celebrating at the same time and how kind of awkward that is,” he said.
Reach was able to capture two groups of people coming together to remember the Orlando victims near the White House as they were leaving the festival.
“I believe it was the Gay Men’s Chorus and once the groups combined they sang the National Anthem and it was incredibly powerful,” he said. “Everyone was just kind of sobbing and hugging each other…it was definitely the most powerful moment I’ve had in my life.”
A GoFundMe page has been set up for donations to go toward the victims of the shooting by Equality Florida, the state’s LGBTQ civil rights organization. As of Monday, the GoFundMe page had already received over $1 million in donations.
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